I’ve been meaning to watch Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi (Okami-san and her Seven Companions) for a while. This twelve-episode anime draws heavily on fairy and folk tales, and my love for these classic stories never dies. I finally watched it this past week. It was… decent, once the narrator’s voice stopped annoying me. The title character, Ookami Ryoko, is part of Otagi Bank, a school club that does favors for “clients,” with the expectation that said clients will return the favors when called upon. The characters go on adventures of varying difficulty (the delinquent school in town provides danger), and it’s generally a fun club anime that unapologetically mixes tropes, stereotypes, and well-known tales.
Otagi Bank members help their schoolmates out for a cost, but they have their fair share of trials themselves. The fourth episode, “Ōkami-san and Otsū-senpai’s Favor Repayments,” confronts the idea of favors among friends. One of the secondary characters, Tsurugaya Otsuu, is obsessed with returning favors. When Ryoushi, the main male character, saves her from from getting hit by a stray baseball, she insists on becoming his maid… and I don’t mean just doing a bit of housecleaning, either. After all, Ryoushi saved her. She goes above and beyond, even sleeping in his little one-room apartment so that she will be available to tend to every perceived need. Ryoushi is so uncomfortable with this arrangement, he can’t sleep. Yet she is too worried about returning the favor to realize that he really just wants her to let him sleep in peace.
Otsuu has a tragic back story to go with her obsession: when she was younger, an older brother figure died saving her from being hit by a car. She can never repay him for his sacrifice. Instead, she is determined to repay all other perceived debts in her life. Otsuu overworks herself trying to repay Ryoushi. He goes to the Otagi Bank’s president with the problem. The group of friends comes up with a plan: do so many favors for Otsuu, even she can see that it’s impossible to repay them. The first step of the plan? Dress up as maids and wait on her hand and foot for an entire day. Of course, at the end of the day, she says that she’ll try to repay each of them for what they’ve done. They tell her that it’s impossible, and even if she did manage to repay the favor, they’d do even more for her, so the cycle would never end. They explain that since they are friends, helping each other out is only natural. Otagi Bank might be founded on a system of favor and debt, but the group’s members themselves need no such thing. There are no favors between friends.
This plot idea isn’t new. Many anime, movies, and TV shows include characters who are too proud or insecure to get help from others, or who feel they must repay every nice thing that’s done for them. (Arakawa Under the Bridge comes to mind, though I’ve only seen an episode or two of that.) They don’t know how to accept kindness with no strings attached. After years of watching these characters learn about friendship and kindness, I’ve finally realized how much I have to learn myself. Among my family, I don’t hesitate to ask for anything. But I’m more awkward with friends and classmates: If I accept an offer of food, but never give food in return or offer further friendship, is that rude? If they write me a note on my birthday, or just because they want to encourage me, doesn’t that mean I have to do the same? If I write a kind note or do something else for them, will they see it as more than passing kindness? I really can’t offer much companionship as a friend right now! Will I make them feel obligated? I don’t expect anything back, not even deeper friendship, I just want to do this one thing.
It’s kind of ridiculous. I think everyone likes the idea of people doing kind things for each other with no strings attached, at least theoretically. And among Christians, like my classmates at my Christian university, it should be a given that we demonstrate love for one another without the expectation of anything in return. Conversely, those of us who can’t give more than a “thank you” in return should be able to accept such kindness. After all, through faith, we can all benefit from Jesus’s sacrifice, which we can never repay.
And that is where I find the big parallel between this episode of Ookami-san and Christian life. When Jesus died on the cross, he took our place. Because no human being except Jesus Christ ever lived a perfect life, only he could become the perfect sacrifice. He redeemed us from our sins—meaning he paid our way out of sin and death, so we don’t have to live separated from God and habitually sinning anymore. His death and resurrection means that we can have eternal, abundant life, in relationship with him—not because of anything we do, but only because of what he did. All he asks in return? Our faith in who he is and what he has done for us (Romans 4:1-8, 18-25).
Jesus lived, died, and rose again as a perfect sacrifice because we couldn’t. By definition, it is impossible to repay him. He wasn’t doing us a favor, but giving us a gift. We don’t have to try to earn it or prove our worthiness by doing things for him. If we try, then we miss the point just as much as Otsuu. Instead of trying to do the impossible and repay him, we should just accept his gift, his love, his grace, his friendship, and his authority. We should enjoy him and his gift, and use it, just as he wants us to.
That’s not to say that, once we trust in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, that we should feel free to just go back to sinning. Look at the last sentence in the paragraph above, and where I italicized “use.” Jesus gave us something a whole lot more valuable than a “Get out of Hell Free” card to play at our deathbed. We’re not the same people anymore. It won’t feel right, and it won’t be right to live in a way that goes against God’s commandments. If you don’t strive to obey and understand Jesus better, you’re missing out on how awesome life with him can be. Good works aren’t necessary for salvation, and they’re not expected in repayment, but they are expected as a logical result, with God’s help. This fact is apparent throughout the New Testament.
If you don’t accept God’s free gift of salvation for what it is, you will be stressed out. On the other hand, speaking from experience, it feels wonderful to rest secure in God’s love and in salvation through Jesus. I don’t mean “rest” as in it’s always easy or I don’t have to work to obey him. It can be hard, and I do have to work. I want to please him and to demonstrate my love for him, as weak as it is compared to his. But I know Jesus did the hardest—the impossible—work for me, and that he continues to work in my life, even though I can never repay him. Accepting that whole-heartedly (hopefully moreso than Otsuu accepts her friends’ kindness at the end of the episode) is a relief and a pleasure.
I know our readers come from all different backgrounds. Many of you aren’t Christians. Many of you are—maybe you’ve known Jesus for years, maybe just for a few days. No matter where you are in your beliefs, I encourage you to stop and think about Jesus’s free gift. If you’re trying to become worthy before surrendering to Christ, please realize that he’ll take you exactly how you are. If you don’t believe me, just look at who Jesus hung out with during his time walking on earth. You can’t become worthy on your own, so trying is fruitless. If you’re already a believer, and you’re still trying to work it off, I encourage you to confront yourself and consider what you believe in your heart about Christ. Do you know the difference between appreciative obedience and trying to earn righteousness? Or is this a subject you need to wrestle through?
I probably opened a can of worms about faith and works, so hopefully I communicated what I believe clearly enough. It’s a topic that’s worth reflecting on. I didn’t expect it to come up after watching a silly anime like Ookami-san, but I’m glad it did; it’s a reminder to pause in my busy day and just thank Jesus for saving me when I could not save myself.